Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Baked Beans/Hush Puppies/Mustard Cole Slaw

To most of America, summertime means BBQ time, at least that's what Saveur thinks as they plastered a slab of ribs on the cover of their latest issue. Of course, BBQ means different things to different people depending on who you ask or where you live. In Chicago, we've had a slew of new BBQ-themed restaurants open here in the last 12 months to complement an already fairly well-established (and probably underappreciated) BBQ scene. We're not as good as the folks in Texas, Kansas City, or the Carolinas, but we're definitely ahead of the pack when you consider the likes of, say, Hawaii (although I've never been there....maybe you can get good BBQ Spam in the islands).

Anyway, I'm not much of a home griller or BBQ cook - I prefer to leave that genre of cuisine to the professionals (and I'm chomping at the bit, I might add, to try out Carolina-style BBQ again when we head down to the ocean for our annual family vacation next month). When it comes to the side dishes, however, I decided to throw my hat in the smoker and try a few of the recipes included in the Saveur BBQ issue, namely baked beans, hush puppies, and mustard cole slaw, none of which I'd attempted to make prior to this. My overall vision here was to make a very simple chuck roast in the crock pot (not really BBQ, mind you, but that's about as close as I get at the Commissary) and let the side dishes take center stage on the table.

Of the selected recipes, the cole slaw was by far the simplest - you basically chop up the cabbage (provided courtesy of the weekly farmbox) and mix in all of the specified ingredients, most of which I already had on hand (sans celery seeds). Chill for an hour and, voila, mustard cole slaw, which was crunchy and had a nice kick to it from the 2 tsp. of black pepper added. The baked beans were a little more complicated, but not much. I had no molasses in the pantry, so I substituted dark corn syrup instead (they're pretty close). For BBQ sauce, I used the generic flavor of Sweet Baby Ray's with a little of the honey version to round it out (that wasn't premeditated, by the way - I just ran out of the 1st BBQ sauce and happened to have some of the 2nd one in the fridge). This recipe makes a TON of beans, about enough to feed your kid's little league team with still some left over. They ended up tasting pretty rich and decadent owing to the copious amount of sugar (brown sugar, corn syrup, and BBQ sauce), salt (beef stock, bacon, and BBQ sauce), and fat (bacon + bacon grease); regardless, Mrs. Hackknife and I quite enjoyed them and Mrs. Hackknife's mom also provided positive feedback.

The third recipe was a little trickier (hush puppies). I used my 5.5 qt.-Dutch oven as my deep fryer and filled it about 2" deep with peanut oil instead of the called-for canola (I had a giant jug of slightly-used peanut oil under the sink just waiting to be drained). I ran out of yellow cornmeal and had to augment it with a little bit of white cornmeal I had in the freezer (again courtesy of the farmbox). When it came time to mix the dough, it was VERY sticky and I probably should have used some flour to mitigate the tackiness (this would have helped during assembly of the little balls of dough - I opted to hand roll them instead of using a piping bag as recommended by the recipe). Because of the difficulty in putting them together, I think I made them too big and they took a little longer to cook in the hot oil than the 1-2 minutes cited. The progeny were anxiously waiting for me to finish so we could start dinner, so I ended up undercooking a few of them, leaving some mushy in the middle. I wasn't terribly impressed with the result and Hackknife Jr. only briefly nibbled on one before discarding it (Hackknifette abstained entirely), but Mrs. Hackknife told me that she liked them quite a bit at lunch the next day (maybe the curdling buttermilk inside added something positive to the flavor profile).

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